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10 predictions for the 2018-19 college basketball season

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We make our national championship pick + nine other predictions.

1. Kentucky will win the 2018-19 national championship

This is the eighth year there’s been a national championship prediction in this post. After nailing three of the first four champions, the last three years have all produced a swing and a miss (shoutout to Kansas for at least making a run to the Final Four last season).

We’ll try and get back on track in 2018-19 by saying that this feels like the season John Calipari produces his second national title.

My colleague Ricky O’Donnell isn’t quite as high on the Cats (see his preseason top 25 for further evidence), but to me, Kentucky checks more of the requisite boxes than any other team in the country. There isn’t a surefire top 10 pick on this roster, no, but there’s still an abundant amount of talent at every spot where you need an abundance of talent. Toss in the presence of grad transfer Reid Travis — a two-time First Team All-Pac 12 performer at Stanford — and you have the final piece of experience that all Calipari’s best UK teams have possessed.

Outside shooting and point guard play might be minor concerns through the season’s opening weeks, but they’ll alleviated, or at least adequately concealed, by the time March rolls around. Kentucky always peaks at the right time, and 2019 will be no different.

2. There will be additional news related to the FBI investigation, but it won’t come close to overshadowing the season

Twelve months ago, bold predictions about the season ahead all revolved around the idea that it would be overshadowed by the FBI investigation that was in the early stages of “rocking” the sport. Then the first games tipped off, and outside of some controversial reporting about Arizona in February, it was mostly business as usual from November through the end of the NCAA tournament.

Expect a similar five-month period this go-round. The scheduled trials in February in April will demand some headlines whether they’re settled beforehand or not, but barring any unforeseen bombshells, it’s hard not to envision the off the court madness once again playing second fiddle to the standard ins and outs of the actual season.

3. Duke freshman Zion Williamson will receive an exorbitant amount of attention, and it will make people very, very mad

Williamson may not wind up being the best player on his own team, but he’s one of the most hyped and exciting freshmen college basketball has ever seen. He’s built like an NFL linebacker but can jump so high that he can stare down at the rim, he has 1.8 million followers on Instagram, and the highlight videos he’s graced since being 15-years-old have likely already made him more famous than at least 70 percent of the players in the NBA.

All this is going to result in some significant media attention. Whether we’re talking about ESPN broadcasts or website coverage, Zion Williamson is going to be everywhere this winter. Think last year’s Trae Young coverage on steroids.

There will be a large contingent of people who hate all this coverage and who have to let everyone around them know how much they hate the coverage. Then, of course, there will be a second group who hate the people complaining about all the Zion coverage, and who will feel the need to let the world know how they feel about the Zion-haters. While all this is going on, Williamson dunk and block highlight videos will continue to flow like water spouting out of an irreparably broken dam.

This is without question the easiest prediction of any to make about the upcoming season.

4. Michigan State will have its most successful March since 2015

Despite some significant hype in each of the last three seasons, Tom Izzo’s program hasn’t made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since its last Final Four trip in 2015. The 2018-19 Spartans don’t have a surefire lottery pick or a guy who’s getting significant national Player of the Year buzz, but this tends to be the setup for Michigan State’s best teams.

Izzo has a reliable, experienced guard in Cassius Winston who has steadily improved throughout his college career. He also has a talented post player in Nick Ward who seems poised to make the jump that many believed he would a year ago.

The time when you stop talking about Michigan State is the time when they tend to be the most dangerous. Don’t be shocked if Sparty is the Final Four team everyone kicks themselves for not pegging before the start of the year.

5. Campbell’s Chris Clemons will lead the country in scoring

You need the 5’9 dynamo in the NCAA tournament as much as you need a team nicknamed the “Fightin’ Camels” to go dancing.

6. South Dakota State’s Mike Daum and Clemons will both breach the 3,000-point mark

Somewhat unbelievably, Daum and Clemons will each enter their final seasons of college basketball with an identical career point totals of 2,232. There’s no reason to believe that the production of either player will dip significantly in year four, so here’s guessing that both break the 3,000 career-point mark and leave college basketball ranked somewhere in the sport’s top 15 all-time leading scorers.

7. Loyola-Chicago won’t be the best team in the Missouri Valley

Because of its Cinderella run to the Final Four last March — shoutout to Sister Jean — there will be a heightened number of eyes on the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers this season. Loyola absolutely returns enough from that squad to be dangerous once again, but don’t be shocked if they aren’t even the best team to come out of the Missouri Valley Conference.

That distinction could very well belong to Illinois State, which can lay claim to the league’s most talented overall player in Milik Yarbrough. The Redbirds lost to Loyola in the MVC championship game a year ago, and will be hungry to get over that hump in 2019.

Could the Valley be a two-bid league? It seems unlikely, but Loyola’s run last year could at least demand some debate.

8. The Maui Invitational will return to being the top early season tournament

The field at the Battle 4 Atlantis is a bit down and there is no PK80 this season, which means the Maui Invitational will be returning to its traditional spot as the king of the early season tournaments.

The eight-team field is loaded this November, with Duke, Gonzaga, Auburn, Arizona, Xavier, Illinois, San Diego State and Iowa State all set to make the trip to the island. The only bummer is that for the first time since the inception of the tournament, there will be no Chaminade in the field. We’ll see you in 2019, Silverswords.

9. This season’s opening night will be the best ever

One of the biggest complaints that has been hurled in the direction of college basketball in recent years is that it stumbles out of the gate with an opening night that doesn’t demand national attention.

The powers that be in the sport have finally addressed that concern and moved the Champions Classic — which has served as the season’s unofficial starting point for nearly a decade now — to opening night. On day one of the season we’re going to get Duke-Kentucky, Kansas-Michigan State, Florida-Florida State, Washington-Western Kentucky, North Carolina looking to avenge last season’s upset loss to Wofford, and a few other sexy tilts.

10. Kansas will win its 15th-straight Big 12 regular season title

No one promised that all the predictions would be bold.